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"Whatever happened to Latin? At least when that made no sense, the church approved."

A special instance of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and a perfect way to show that a character is not only smart, but refined, well- (formally) educated, and upper-class: have him be able to recite a Latin quotation flawlessly or read the dead language of the Romans as if it were his native tongue.

Supposedly, this shows that the character is of high intelligence or at least education, because Smart People Know Latin. Perhaps a reason for this is that since nobody speaks Latin, its remaining uses include a large proportion of "scholarly" applications, such as etymology, deciphering ancient texts, and mere quotation. While other languages have uses in these fields, their primary use - as a living language - crowds out other uses, so they are not considered as "scholarly."

Based on Truth in Television, as back during the Renaissance when classical Greek and Roman texts were rediscovered by Europeans, the ability to read the original sources was considered a good idea. Even earlier, most literate Europeans were members of the clergy, and therefore had Latin as a common language regardless of where they were living. Given the above, Latin became the default language of scholarship, and works on science and other learned subjects were often written in Latin as a sort of Lingua Franca. This is one of the reason science's language of choice for terminologies (especially in taxonomy) is Latin (with some Greek thrown in). The trend only started to fade during the 19th century, when English was beginning to become dominant.

Further, knowledge of Latin (and to a lesser extent, Greek) was a sign of a proper education as supplied by the British Public School system. In other words, only the wealthy could afford an education that included instruction in Latin, thus the modern connotation of class and education. Also, education in Latin in the present day has been linked to better language skills and test scores, and it is rare for poor students to take Latin unless it's a requirement. Not to mention how many higher-end schools and universities have Pretentious Latin Mottoes.

In modern works, knowledge of Latin will often be a part of Instant Cultured if a character is subject to Screw Learning, I Have Phlebotinum. Expect a newly intelligent character to suddenly be able to read Latin fluently, or at least ramble off the Latin roots of a word.

Of course, use of Dog Latin, or worse, Pig Latin betrays a classical sort of Delusions of Eloquence.

Examples of Smart People Know Latin include:


Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • In one issue of The Avengers, Hank McCoy (The Beast) converses with a Roman Catholic nun in Latin.
  • Asterix, which takes place around 50 BC when Latin was a living language, always show the Romans speaking the same language as the Gauls. Except that whenever a group of Roman legionnaires are speaking, then one of them will likely be qouting something in Latin. Often to the frustration of the other legionnaires since it usually happen in a situation too serious for that - for example while running from the invincible Gauls.
    • One of the pirates whose ship the Gauls wreck Once Per Episode also has a tendency to offer pithy quotes in Latin when they're all floating on a raft.
  • Batman knows Latin.

Film

  • In the film Event Horizon, the use of Latin by the captain of that ship on its Apocalyptic Log seems to be there partly to suggest what an educated guy he is, although it's the mistranslation of one of the quotes by the protagonists that turns out to be relevant to the plot.
  • Scarlet from Iron Man 2 speaks multiple languages including Latin, which impresses Tony. Pepper, corrects him in saying no one 'speaks' Latin, as it's a dead language (which isn't true, because all that makes it a "dead" language is that people don't have it as a first language and thus it doesn't change).
  • In the live-action Richie Rich movie, Cadbury is seen to be skilled in reading Latin. Richie himself apparently knows enough Latin to send him a secret message in a greeting card:

 Policeman: [trying to read the card] What's this?

Richie: Latin.

Policeman: Latino? Thought he was English!

  • The daughter in The Haunted Mansion, who is supposed to be the smartest character, takes a course on Latin.
  • Edmund Rutledge in 1776, although in that context almost certainly a marker of social class. Col. MacIan mistakes it for French.
  • In Tombstone, Doc and Ringo have a whole conversation of death threats against each other in Latin.
  • in Withnail and I, Withnail and Monty engage in some prep-school Latin badinage at the less highly educated I's expense.

Live Action TV

  • Obstructive Bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby of "Yes Minister" is often fond of flaunting his Oxbridge education in front of his LSE-educated boss with Latin. @1:08 here
  • Eric Sweet from House of Anubis is versed in Latin and routinely spouts Latin phrases, presumably to demonstrate how smart he is.
  • President Bartlet on The West Wing, who is a giant nerd, understands Latin enough that he can spontaneously compose prayers in it.
    • Though he is a Catholic (by choice, not birth), studied at Notre Dame, and wanted to be a priest at first.
  • Sheldon and Wolowitz try to use this against each other in The Big Bang Theory.
  • Cupid (1998 version): A love-lorn professor and Trevor Hale (who believes he is and/or may actually be Cupid) are discussing picking up women in a bar.

 Jennings: Ille qui haesitat...[1]

Trevor: ...dormit in vacuo lecto.[2]

  • A category title from Win Ben Stein's Money: "I speak Latin, ergo I am annoying."
  • Dr. Huang, The Shrink / The Smart Guy / Mr. Exposition on Law and Order SVU effortlessly steps in to correct a mistranslated Latin word in the episode "Silence".
  • It's a running gag on QI to make fun of Stephen Fry's perceived posh upbringing. On one occasion, Alan made a joke about him knowing the Lord's Prayer in Latin, to which Stephen responded by quoting the first line of such at high speed. Here's the clip
  • An episode of Sliders had the protagonists end up in a world where being smart and well-educated is cool (they pass a punk on the street with a boombox blasting classical music). Sports are all a mix of physical endurance and knowledge (kinda lends a whole new meaning to the term "mathlete"). Quinn in this world is a well-known athlete and a slider (although, Quinn-prime finds out that this Quinn never discovered sliding and was just faking). He's also involved with some unsavory types. The episode's Big Bad is a mobster who constantly likes to quote phrases in Latin and gets annoyed when the others have no idea what he said. At the end of the episode, right before sliding, Quinn turns around and spouts a phrase in Latin, which turns out to be an insult. Of course, it's entirely possible that many people know at least some Latin in this world, given the obsession with intelligence.
  • Gil Grissom has done this a time or two on CSI-his insect names are most common, but there has been once or twice besides that.
  • Temperance Brennan on Bones
  • Fred and Wesley on Angel. Angel himself is a bit of an inversion, he does have his smart areas, but isn't really upper class. He probably learned some as a youth, and the rest from experience with the old books.
  • Methos on Highlander. Justified since he was alive back then and lived in the Roman Empire for a while.
  • Apparently Latin is part of the curriculum at Starfleet Academy for some reason, as one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation reveals that Wesley Crusher is studying it, and in another episode, Counselor Troi suggests that Picard, who's been turned into a child in a transporter accident, can go there to "brush up on [his] Latin."

Literature

  • Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. They trade all sorts of learned quotations, but Latin is part of the deal. The last time he proposes marriage to her (in Gaudy Night), he does so in Latin while wearing his cap and gown (he took a First at Balliol). She accepts in the same language: "Placet." [3] One of his frequent terms of endearment for her is "domina" (a feminine form of "dominus" "master") meaning "lady" or "mistress".
  • The the Aubrey-Maturin series, this is invoked in universe. Stephen Maturin is a physician that speaks Latin (along with a half a dozen other languages) and he will often use Latin around patients both to keep them from knowing what he is saying (when he is talking to another physician or an assistant who also speaks Latin) and because patients are reassured by the fact that their doctor is learned enough to speak Latin. The crews of the ships he serves on often brag that their ship has a real physician that speaks Latin and Greek.
    • Note that these were the times when surgeons and physicians were two radically different occupations, surgeons being little more than half-literate artisans who could let the blood, put on the leeches, extract the tooth or perform a field amputation. Having a real trained doctor on the ship (which was required to have a surgeon, not a physician) was a rare luck indeed.
  • Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory are apparently writing to each other in Latin in Count and Countess.

Newspaper Comics

  • Parodied in a FoxTrot strip where Jason says that his new year's resolution is to speak entirely in Latin. He recites common-knowledge Latin phrases such as "a priori", "quid pro quo", etc. just to annoy his sister, Paige.

Theater

 "If love have touched you, nought remains but so,

Redime te captum quam queas minimo.[4]"

Video Games

  • In Fallout: New Vegas your player can use Latin phrases in certain trees provided their intelligence is 8 out of 10. The lower ranks of Caesar's Legion seem only to know "vale" and "ave", while a centurion POW you meet seems to be fluent.

Web Original

  • Phase (Ayla Goodkind) of the Whateley Universe reads Latin, ancient Greek, and Middle English, all part of his classism and upper-upper-class upbringing in private schools. He also speaks several modern languages, and is a snob about it.

Western Animation

 Lisa: I'm the best student in school, how come I never heard about this competition?

Bart: Maybe because you are, as we say in Latin, a "dorkus malorkus."

Lisa: That's not Latin. Mom, Bart's faking it.

Marge: Lisa, you've had your glory. Now it's Bart's turn.

Real Life

  • There are countries where Latin and ancient Greek are still taught in school.
  • The non-english nomenclauture of anatomy, the "Terminologia Anatomica" is in latin (and is taught at medical universities in non-english speaking countries). It can be found here. Medicine itself is filled with Latin terminology, and generally, the language of medicine in non-english speaking countries is still latin.
  • In seminary (studying to be a priest), learning Koine Greek or Hebrew is usually compulsory, so that one can read The Bible in its original language.
  • Mensa, the high IQ society, has a Latin name. "Mensa" means "table" in latin, signifying the coming together of equals.

Notes

  1. "He who hesistates..."
  2. "Sleeps in an empty bed."
  3. "It pleases."
  4. "Redeem yourself from captivity as cheaply as possible", a quotation from Terence.
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